After all those years on “The Office,” it’s understandable someone would want to give Mindy Kaling her own vehicle. She’s smart, funny, has that pip-squeaky voice made for sitcoms, and despite her bravado, comes across as awkward and vulnerable. “The Mindy Project” certainly leverages those assets, though like “New Girl,” it’s an imperfect product, and given its familiar trappings needs to put even more effort into bolstering its support system. Still, there are enough winning moments here to come back for an encore.
Pursuing what’s perhaps become a too-popular formula, the show’s central character is one of those young women who’s quite accomplished professionally but a mess when it comes to her personal life.
“Your life is not a romantic comedy,” Mindy is told, but that doesn’t prevent her from approaching it as such — having been weaned on watching a variety of them — despite being a doctor. So when she discovers an ex-boyfriend is getting married (guest Bill Hader), she goes to the wedding (a device also featured in the pilot for Fox’s “Ben and Kate”) and proceeds to make a scene.
On the plus side, Mindy comes across as more real than many a sitcom heroine — single at 31, worrying about her weight, engaging in meaningless sex, going on an uncomfortable blind date (with former “Office” co-star Ed Helms), and sparring with a brusque colleague (Chris Messina) who tells her to lose 15 pounds. As for laugh-out-loud moments, when a car nearly hits a drunken Mindy as she speeds by on a bike, she yells, “Racist!”
For all that, the very name “The Mindy Project” seems especially apt, since the series feels very much like an unfinished product — energetic, yes, but not fully realized. The good news is the show is compatible with the Tuesday comedy block it’s joining — one that shouldn’t set the bar unreasonably high on rating expectations.
Many women will no doubt be able to relate to Mindy’s issues and root for her. That said, within “The Office’s” ensemble, Kaling could knock a couple of lines out of the park, and that was enough. Here, even with promising supporting players — including Messina, Anna Camp and Stephen Tobolowsky — there’s no escaping it’s her show, and at times a little of her self-absorbed, it’s-all-about-me shtick goes a long way.
Moving beyond her old workplace, “Mindy” must thus grapple with a different weight — the unique kind associated with carrying a star showcase on your shoulders.